Vocabulary Quiz #12: Commonly Confused Words

By Mark Nichol

In each sentence, choose the correct word from the pair of similar terms. (If both words possibly can be correct, choose the more plausible one.)

1. If we rise early enough, we can be ______ down the road by noon.
a) farther
b) further

2. Is there anyone ______ me, who wants to volunteer for the flower committee?
a) besides
b) beside

3. If the committee meets _______ , they will only meet six times a year.
a) semimonthly
b) bimonthly

4. Are you able to ______ an authority for such an outlandish statement?
a) cite
b) site

5. All six members who ______ the school board are parents.
a) comprise
b) compose

Answers and Explanations

1. If we rise early enough, we can be farther down the road by noon.
a) farther

Farther always refers to distance. Further may refer to distance, but is the only choice for the meaning “to a greater extent or degree.” Example: The teacher will go further into the explanation in tomorrow’s lesson.

2. Is there anyone besides me, who wants to volunteer for the flower committee?
a) besides

Besides means “in addition to.” Beside means “next to.” Example: Would you like to sit beside me?

3. If the committee meets bimonthly , they will only meet six times a year.
b) bimonthly

Bimonthly means “every other month.” Semimonthly means “twice a month.”

4. Are you able to cite an authority for such an outlandish statement?
a) cite

Cite is a verb that has more than one meaning. In the context of this sentence, cite means “to quote an authority.” As a verb, site means “to locate.” Example: The factory will be sited within the industrial park. As a noun, site means “a place or location.” Example: I’m sure you can find the information you want on a web site.

5. All six members who compose the school board are parents.
b) compose

Compose means “to make up, to be the material of which something is assembled.” Comprise means “to bring together, to include, to contain.” This pair of words is often confused, because both share another definition, “to consist of.” Use comprise when the “whole” of which you are speaking comes first. Use compose when the separate parts are mentioned first.

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10 Responses to “Vocabulary Quiz #12: Commonly Confused Words”

  • TheBluebird11

    Agree with Catriona. “Compose” is really not the best word to choose, and “comprise” is incorrect here, as it is most of the time when used. I would recast the sentence as you did.

  • D.A.W.

    More about a chromedome speaking bureaucratese:
    “The factory will be sited within the industrial park.”
    Now for some Plain English:
    The factory will be put in the industrial park.
    They will put the factory in the industrial park.
    We will put the factory in the industrial park.
    The factory will be built in the industrial park.

  • D.A.W.

    German capitalizes all nouns:
    All examples of nouns adopted from German into English were esoteric ones.
    Now, for some common ones:
    angst, blitz, blitzkrieg, flak, gestapo, hinterland, kindergarten, mensch, strafe.
    Examples: Roosevelt was a real mensch.
    The word “hinterland” means about the same as “boondocks” or “outback”.
    (Speaking of some oppressive country) The police here area are a real gestapo.
    The word “flak” is from a German acronym, FLAK, for “FLieger Abwehr Kannonen” = antiaircraft guns.

  • D.A.W.

    Error message concerning Daily Writing Tips (today):
    The website cannot display the page: HTTP 405
    Most likely cause:
    The website has a programming error.

  • D.A.W.

    Here is another example: Mr. Shoe is the leader of a project in footwear. At the end of an unproductive day, Mr. Shoe tells his staff: “If we rise early enough [tomorrow], we can be further down the road by noon.”
    No, we are not “walking down that same road again.”

  • D.A.W.

    I disagree with Mark’s dictum about #1, very much:
    “If we rise early enough, we can be farther down the road by noon.”
    The other one is correct: “If we rise early enough, we can be further down the road by noon.” This is because the word “further” is figurative, and nothing involving real distance is here.
    Let’s be more specific. Mr. C is the leader of a project in computer software. At the end of a hectic but unproductive day, Mr. C tells his staff: “If we rise early enough [tomorrow], we can be further down the road by noon.”
    [By the way, I have scanned through the above several times, and each time I eliminated several words and punctuation marks as wordy, bureaucratese, or unneeded. It took real work to boil it down to the crux. Sometimes, I took longer words and replaced them with shorter ones, including one-syllable words.]

  • D.A.W.

    I agree completely with Catronia! Here is a guiding rule, too: don’t use a two- or three-syllable word when one syllable will do well (her use of the word “are”).
    Besides that, to use the words “comprise” or “compose” here is pure bureaucratese. In other words, it is talking like a chromedome.
    To emphasize her point: the word “comprise” should be discarded (from the working vocabulary of everyone). It is confusing and unnecessary, just like the “word” “irregardless”.
    There ought to be an inoculation against these!

  • Catriona

    No. 5 is unnecessarily difficult. It would be simpler to say “All members of the school board are parents.”
    I would avoid “comprise” like the plague, since nearly everyone gets it wrong, and “compose” sounds a bit strange in this sentence, at least for British English. Let’s use plain English wherever we can!

  • TheBluebird11

    @Tim and Mark: IMHO, commas only add clutter to that sentence. They do not add to, clarify, or change the meaning of the sentence. If someone were speaking those words, they would not pause after “anyone” or “me.” Nobody reading the sentence would have any problem understanding it without commas. But if you’re putting in ONE comma, I agree Tim is right and there should be TWO.

  • Tim Slager

    Thanks for the weekly quizzes, Mark!
    I would argue that the comma in the second sentence should be eliminated. Or you could make it parenthetical and add a comma: Is there anyone, besides me, who wants…

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